Most county school districts have levies on February ballot

  • Wed Jan 15th, 2020 3:30pm
  • News

All but one school district in Grays Harbor County has a levy issue on the special February ballot this year.

Election Day is Feb. 11. Ballots are expected to be mailed out the week of Jan. 20.

North River School District is the only one not on the ballot. Superintendent David Pickering said there has been a levy for only three of the 17 years he has been with the small district south and east of Cosmopolis isn’t seeking a levy this election.

“We’re funded differently,” Pickering said. “We’re not funded per student. It’s called the ‘small-school basis.’ Plus we run a very tight ship, very economical.”

The district is somewhat unusual in that part of it is in Grays Harbor and part of it is in Pacific county. If there was a vote, the two counties are counted together for purposes of that district.

The requests for local property taxes dedicated to the school districts will have a new name on the ballot this time: “enrichment” or “education programs and operations” levies, which voters might know better as the maintenance and operations levies.

In revamping school funding in 2018, the Legislature reduced the maximum amount schools can request from property taxes to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value. Last year, the Legislature increased the maximum that schools can levy to choice of the lesser of $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed value or $2,500 per full time equivalent student.

Most districts in Grays Harbor County are asking for the maximum $2.50 per $1,000 value. Some are two-year levies, others are four years. All the enrichment levies are taking the place of previous levies.

In many cases, this is a decrease from previous voter-approved levies.

In 2018, voters in the Mary M. Knight School District approved a $3.07 per $1,000 rate. In 2016, Montesano residents approved a $3.80 per $1,000 levy.

Districts requesting the $2.50 amount are Aberdeen, Cosmopolis, Elma, Hoquiam, Mary M. Knight, McCleary, Montesano and Rochester.

Some districts are requesting less. North Beach is requesting $1.35; Lake Quinault, $2.25; Oakville, $2.15; Satsop, $1.87. Ocosta has a three year levy with estimated rates of $1.94, $1.98 and $2.04.

Two districts are requesting collection rates higher than the maximum. Taholah is requesting about $2.52 for the first year and $2.59 the second year. Wishkah is requesting two years at $3.50 per $1,000 of assessed value for education programs and operations, plus a four-year levy of 50 cents per $1,000 for technology and telecommunications projects.

Wishkah School District Superintendent Wally Lis says his district still will be limited to collecting $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed value for the education programs and operations levy; however, if the Legislature raises that limit, then the district could increase its tax without having to go through another vote. So if voters approve both Wishkah levies, residents will be taxed about $3 per $1,000 for the tech and education programs and operations levies.

Bonds

Several districts are asking voters to back 20-year bonds to fund major projects.

Oakville seeks $5.6 million “to renovate outdated facilities and enhance learning opportunities,” according to the February ballot, to replace and remodel the old elementary school in order to move the kitchen to the main building, among other improvements.

“We have a pretty serious situation with our kitchen,” Oakville Superintendent Rich Staley said. “The roof leaks like a sieve. The building has kind of lived its life.”

He said the kitchen is valuable to the region beyond feeding students.

“The kitchen situation is kind of dire for us. It’s really important we do that for the community,” Staley said. ” Not only is the kitchen for the school district, but if we had an emergency in Oakville somewhere, the school is the safety refuge for the area. And if we don’t have a functioning kitchen, it would be really hard to feed people in an emergency situation.”

Three other school districts also have bond issues that would finance major projects on the ballot.

• Aberdeen School District would like $46.8 million to replace Stevens Elementary.

• Elma would like to build a new athletics stadium with the $5.56 million it seeks.

• Rochester has proposed a capital improvement and school construction bond for districtwide “upgrades to safety and security systems, and construct renovations and an expansion to Rochester High School” that total no more than $57.49 million.